HARTFORD, Conn. — Against the backdrop of a 53 percent plunge in net farm income over the past five years, Farm Aid 2018 emphasized the determination of farmers and ranchers in Connecticut and across the nation to survive mounting challenges that include sinking commodity prices and rising production expenses and interest rates, in addition to uncertainty around the Farm Bill and U.S. trade and immigration policies.
At the sold-out event that took place at XFINITY Theatre, Farm Aid president and founder Willie Nelson said family farmers are becoming endangered. They haven’t faced such grave economic circumstances since Farm Aid started, with thousands fewer working the land compared to 1985.
“No matter what’s thrown at them, family farmers persevere,” said Nelson, “They’ve hung in there for generations, growing good food for all of us. Now we’re the ones who’ve got to dig in and fight for their survival.”
Joining Nelson’s urgent call for change were Farm Aid board members John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews (performing with Tim Reynolds), as well as Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Jamey Johnson, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Particle Kid, Ian Mellencamp, David Amram and Wisdom Indian Dancers. All of these artists donated their time, transportation and talents to support farm families.
The daylong festival kicked off with a conversation about the current farm crisis between Connecticut Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky, local farmers and Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Matthews. Farm Aid highlighted area dairy and produce farmers who are determined to stay on the land, despite a historic confluence of challenges facing farms across the country, including crashing commodity prices, trade, labor shortages, health care costs and natural disasters. Since 1970, the number of American dairy farms has dropped by more than 93 percent, with bellwether dairy state Wisconsin losing over 500 farms in 2017 alone.
One program that currently benefits low-income individuals and families, as well as farmers, is SNAP/EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer), which is under attack by members of Congress. Connecticut doubles SNAP benefits through its SNAP Match program, enabling families to use their benefits to support local farmers. SNAP represents an important market for farm families—one that has the dual benefit of feeding hungry families and providing income to local farmers.
“Farmers are an incredible example to this country of how to face uncertainty and adversity. They grow our food in the face of tremendous odds, offering us hope,” said Farm Aid’s executive director, Carolyn Mugar. “Every day they do their part to ensure good food for all of us; now as community members, voters and eaters, we can do our part to strengthen them.”
On Friday, 11-time Grammy-nominated music artist Jamey Johnson was honored with the organization’s Spirit of Farm Aid award for his unwavering support of family farmers. Farm Aid 2018 marks Johnson’s 11th appearance at the festival.
Farm Aid 2018 offered menu items that adhered to Farm Aid’s annual HOMEGROWN Concessions® criteria: all ingredients are sustainably produced by family farmers; the food is produced with ecological practices; and farmers receive a fair price for their products. Food choices for concertgoers included local clam-stuffed baked potato skins, fish tacos, a beet sandwich, hand-dipped corndogs and shrimp and grits.
Sponsors of Farm Aid 2018 include Bonterra Organic Vineyards, Patagonia Workwear, Lundberg Family Farms, New Belgium Brewing Company, Horizon Organic, Pete and Gerry’s Organic, Shenandoah Valley Organic, Harbor Harvest, Frontier Co-op, Spindrift and Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company.
“Farm Aid 2018” airs on AXS TV beginning at 7 p.m. EDT, as well as at www.farmaid.org from 3 to 11 p.m. EDT. Willie Nelson’s SiriusXM channel (59), Willie’s Roadhouse, also airs the show live from noon to 11 p.m. All broadcasts will include backstage interviews and behind-the-scenes coverage of the event.
Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual festival to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. For more than 30 years, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $53 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.